NE RB Depth: Who Will Start at Running Back for the Patriots?
Foxborough, MA - The New England Patriots are one of the masters of consistency in the National Football League, having had the same head coach (Bill Belichick) and the same quarterback (Tom Brady) for almost two decades now. Their proclivity to maintain core players who perform at a high level is second to none in the NFL, with Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, Vince Wilfork, and Stephen Gostkowski just a few of the many examples of Patriots perennially retained since 2000.
However, one position is exempt from this belief and that is the status of running back. Since 2001, the Patriots have started Antowain Smith, Corey Dillon, Kevin Faulk, Laurence Maroney, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Stevan Ridley, LeGarrette Blount, Shane Vereen, Dion Lewis, James White, and Mike Gillislee at running back. Now, the position is more of a revolving door than others, as the Patriots are definitely among the league’s most inconsistent at the position.
Could the 2018-19 season be the one where this finally changes? Probably not, but it’s still unclear who the lead Patriots running back will be now that Lewis is a member of the Tennessee Titans. Currently, Burkhead, White, and Gillislee are at the top of the depth chart for Patriots running backs with Jeremy Hill and Brandon Bolden filling out the pack with one interesting question mark in the middle.
One of college football’s top backs out of Georgia, Sony Michel, is a Patriot and NFL insiders (and ESPN Fantasy Football, too) expect Michel to rise up the depth chart thanks to his big play ability. While the rookie certainly has the potential to become the go to target in New England’s ground game, Burkhead still has the best chance to become the player closest to being a “starting running back” for the team (even though, honestly, Belichick changes the depth chart based on the opponent’s strengths).
The twenty-eight year old second-year Patriot racked up eight touchdowns during last season’s campaign and, at times, seemed like one of Brady’s most favored targets. In most teams’ schemes, Michel would come in and start automatically and Burkhead would be an afterthought. But in Belichick’s systems, Burkhead might just be the rusher he needs for the upcoming campaign.